About My Query: BETTER LIVES

February 8th, 2013 • Kate

alienshoeThe day is trying to get away from me, but I’m not going to let it! Also, a reminder, if you’re not already following my Tumblr, you may want to check it out. I’m posting links to great posts by my brilliant clients, reviews of their books, news about tours and upcoming titles, and great pictures of books and shoes — sometimes both at the same time. If you’re not already a member of Tumblr, and therefore don’t have the handy “follow” button on the top of the webpage, you can also follow it as an RSS feed, available here.

But that’s enough about that! Let’s move on to today’s About My Query post!

Dear Daphne,

When seventeen year-old Marc Andrews wakes up, committed, after killing his date while driving drunk, life can’t get any more messed up. Then he discovers the loony bin’s a fake, run by aliens.

Disguised as humans, the aliens are slowly taking over Earth. They believe it’s a fair deal for humans, preventing them from destroying their planet. As the future president who starts the nuclear war, the destruction’s Marc’s fault. And he’s forced to experience his victims’ suffering from the averted future. Being an accidental murderer’s one thing, but Marc’s shocked that he attains a Hitler-Stalin level of evil.

Marc’s initially grateful to his captors for preventing him from becoming a monster. That is, until he learns an alien faction, which includes the doppelgänger who replaced him, want Earth for themselves and are conspiring to kick off Armageddon as previously scheduled. Marc can’t let the horrors he’s experienced happen for real. It’s up to him, with help from unexpected allies, to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process.

Thanks so much for this opportunity for a critique of my query for BETTER LIVES, a 100,000 words YA science fiction novel. I’m a member of SCBWI and a local chapter critique group.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards,
Eric

So, sci fi’s a tricky genre to easily blurb. In this query, you’re dealing with vehicular manslaughter, drunk driving, a psychiatric institution, debate about predetermination, torture, doppelgangers, and more, and yet the word choice leaves me thinking about funny little green aliens. I think this is a matter of perhaps choosing a different voice with which to query — this one reads very much as Marc’s, which is usually a good thing, but I think in this case we might need that extra bit of separation from the character to put the story in better perspective.

And speaking of putting the book in better perspective, I can’t of course tell from just this description, but I do wonder if this should really be pitched as YA, or if it’s more in the Douglas Adams school of sci-fi man-boy heroes, and as such, might be better served appealing to an adult audience.

You may also want to consider mentioning specifically any of the other characters that Marc interacts with — otherwise, this reads as a very solitary story. Who are the “unexpected allies”? Are they aliens, other inmates at the “asylum”, the ghost of his dead girlfriend? Giving he reader an opportunity to get to know the character better through his intereaction with others may help convince the right reader to take a chance with this.

Other thoughts, my genius commenters?

Photo above by Flickr user m kasahara, used under a Creative Commons license.

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9 Responses to “About My Query: BETTER LIVES”

  1. callen Says:

    I really want to like Marc, because he's the main character and presumably will morph into a hero but I was immediately put off by him because the first thing I knew about him was that he was driving drunk and killed his date. Can you give us some likeability (or at least sympathy) early on so that we're invested in the main character? Also, why was he committed instead of in jail?
    There is so much going on in this book that my head is spinning, and it must be very difficult to summarize 100,000 words into a short query. But if there is any way to start by giving us one main theme and then to branch out into the different complexities from there, that might help. I got a little lost transitioning from the first alien faction to the second, so a little clarity in how Marc sees and experiences the could-have-been future would be helpful.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Tiana Smith Says:

    The sentence that tripped me up was "As the future president who starts the nuclear war, the destruction’s Marc’s fault. " Partly, I think the contraction of "destruction is" made me stumble because I was trying to make it possessive, but also because there was no prepping me on the whole time-warp-knowledge-of-the-future thing. Maybe if you preface that thought with something about how the aliens know of future events? I'm not sure. There's a lot going on in this query, so I know it's hard to figure out what's important enough to include and what can be left out.

    I agree with Callen's comment above though, that we instantly don't like your MC too much. I might be tempted to cut that first paragraph entirely. Of course, it's your call, but I think I'd be more interested in learning about a character who gets tangled up with some terrorist aliens who tell him he's destined to become a Hitler. It leaves me intrigued and wondering why/how he could become that, rather than thinking, "well that makes sense, I didn't like him much anyway…"

  3. kittykelleysutton Says:

    I have a quick question about agents. I am already published with a really good small publisher that I don’t want to change. I write Native American historical fiction mysteries based on heavily researched, almost unknown events that have gone unnoticed and have almost been forgotten. My series is Mysteries from the Trail of Tears, the books are Wheezer and the Painted Frog and Wheezer and the Shy Coyote. I am working on a third now. The books can be classified as YA and also adult historical fiction. I give lectures locally on the aftermath of the Trail of Tears as well. My question is, what benefit can an agent give to someone like me? I would like to do more speaking engagements and I would want to explore film opportunities, but is that enough to attract a good agent? Or is there more an agent can do for me that I am not aware of? Thanks Kitty Sutton

  4. DaphneUn Says:

    I'll do my best to answer this in a separate post. This thread isn't the place for it.

  5. Krista Van Dolzer Says:

    You've already gotten some great advice, so I'll just say ditto to what everyone else has said and add a few more thoughts.

    I think the first paragraph falls prey to the old bait-and-switch tactic–the first sentence makes us think we're getting one kind of story, the second sentence another. Since you've got so much ground to cover, I think you could easily cut the drinking-and-driving plot point (or, if it's critical to the plot, give us a better sense of how it fits into the story).

    Continued in the next comment…

  6. Krista Van Dolzer Says:

    In the second paragraph, I, too, had a problem with "As the future president who starts the nuclear war, the destruction’s Marc’s fault." The subject of the introductory clause (Marc) isn't the subject of the sentence (the destruction), so there's a disconnect. Also, I didn't understand why he's the future president (have the aliens handpicked him for some reason, and if they have, why?), and the reference to nuclear war kind of comes out of nowhere. Later on, I get the sense that this nuclear war was averted somehow and the evil aliens are trying to make it happen again, but I think you could give us a few more clues so we make the logical jumps more easily.

    On the whole, I'd suggest paring this down a bit so you have room to include a little more connective tissue between the plot points. You don't have to summarize all or even most of the story; you just have to give us enough sense of the character and conflict to get us wanting more.

    Good luck!

  7. @ericgsteinberg Says:

    Thanks Callen, Tiana and Krista for the helpful feedback. I definitely have a lot to think about in revising.

    Thanks so much Daphne (aka Kate) for providing this opportunity and for the fantastic critique. I'd love to know, if you're willing to say – where would you have stopped reading if you had received this query as a submission? Thanks again!

  8. DaphneUn Says:

    I do my best to read all the queries I get, and make my decision to read more based on those, so I would have come to the end, for sure. As it stands now, though, I wouldn't have read past this point.

  9. @ericgsteinberg Says:

    Thanks!